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The Darkness of Our Hearts

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Sereq Kallig, also known and feared as Darth Imperius, sat panting against the wall of the courtyard she and her subordinates had appropriated as training grounds, sweat dripping from her brow into her eyes. Sparring with her apprentice was always good fun. He was fast and agile, stronger than his wiry frame would suggest, and he had all the right instincts to be a great fighter. She enjoyed fighting against him almost as much as she enjoyed fighting at his side and wreaking havoc among the enemies of the Empire. His technique still required polishing, and he still needed to learn to fully integrate the use of the Force in his fighting style, but their sparring matches were becoming more and more challenging and interesting, and she treasured the time they could spend together like that.

Today in particular, Xalek had given it everything he had and maybe a bit more, and now was sitting just an arm-length away, looking as exhausted as she felt.
"You've thrown some Juyo into the mix this time, am I right?" she commented appreciatively, trying to slow her breathing.
Xalek nodded. "Yes, Mistress." he panted, also breathless
"Neatly done, but you'll need to improve on your stamina. Juyo is quite draining and you were a bit sloppy towards the end." she advised.
The Kaleesh nodded again. He was always quite laconic, almost to the point of mutism, but he was far from stupid, whatever the other Sith thought about it. He was a good listener and a keen observer, to the point that even she felt quite disquieted when in the focus of his sharp yellow eyes.
Those were the only visible part of his face, apart from the huge tusks protruding from his jaw, and, in the course of his apprenticeship, she had learned to read his emotions in them well enough. Under the stoic façade, there was a deep well of passion hidden in his soul. It was that passion, that lust for life and meaning, that had drawn her to him when he was a mere graduate of the Academy.
Today, he seemed troubled by something. It was harder to notice now, but she had felt it quite keenly earlier as they sparred. Juyo fed on passion, on strong emotions, but it also made them come to the surface. He had been burning with them, blazing like fire, and she had the impression that he hadn't burned through all of them yet.

Maybe it was just cabin fever, she mused. It had been a good two months since their last off-world mission and she knew he tended to feel cooped up after a while. He was still quite young, probably in his early twenties, and he had a lot of energy to spend. Maybe she should organise a sparring match between him and another apprentice in the next days, so that he could properly exhaust himself.
Then again, maybe it wasn't such a good idea. Xalek tended to take those sort of matches too seriously and things usually went quite badly... for his opponents.
She was quite fed up with the whinging and grumbling of other, lesser Sith, when Xalek thrashed the weaklings they had chosen as apprentices.
It was not her fault that she had picked the best, though unlikeliest, of the crop, a true warrior, with the patience of a hunter and the loyalty of a faithful hound. Not her fault, but her pride.

Sereq's eyes shifted towards him as if of their own volition. The day was hot and for once Xalek had foregone his hood and his heavy robes, and was wearing just a pair of dark, loose hakamas and his mask. Apart from the wrappings around his wrists and forearms, most of his upper body was bare to her sight, and her eyes couldn't help but stray towards his bright red skin and the lean and defined muscle in his arms and chest. It was aesthetically pleasing to watch him fight dressed like that, to observe his body in action without impediments. Concentrated as she had been first on keeping her advantage in their match, and then, as things got more serious, on keeping all her limbs attached, it had been less of a distraction.
Now, however, preventing herself from ogling him like a horny teenager was requiring quite a bit of self control.
A nice and cold shower was what she needed to cool down, and not just from the heat of the fight.

As if following her line of thoughts, Xalek stood up and stalked towards the fountain in the middle of the courtyard. He scooped up some water in the hollow of his hands and somehow managed to drink it from the hole in the bottom of his mask which left his mouth partly uncovered.
Inquisitor Sereq watched the droplets of water running down his arms and chest with extreme interest, feeling her own mouth go dry all of a sudden. Just to make matters worse, her apprentice decided that he was still feeling too hot, so he took up one of buckets set aside for the initiates to wash the courtyard, and poured it over his head.
Inquisitor Sereq repressed a whimper, feeling herself become wet as well, even if in an altogether different way. Did Xalek truly not realise the effect he had on females when he pulled stunts like that?
Well maybe not on all females. Maybe shirtless, wet Xalek was an immediate turn-on only for her, but still... She was basically eating him up with her eyes, and yet he appeared totally unaware of the fact.
And it was not as if he wasn't self-aware. He was extremely self-conscious when it came to his appearance, to the point of covering as much of his body as he could manage with heavy robes and a hood, as if to conceal himself. It was only with her that he relaxed enough to dress more comfortably, at times. Possibly it had to do with the speciesism of most Sith, who considered the Kaleesh little more than brutes.
Xalek must have realised that she wasn't most Sith and that she didn't really care what species her subordinates were. In his case less than ever.

Eventually, Xalek noticed her gaze upon him and turned towards her, holding another bucket, full nearly to the brim with cool water, and looking a question at her.
Sereq hesitated for a moment, then shrugged. "Why not?" she thought to herself, standing up and walking towards him.
"It's hot today, Mistress." Xalek said, handing the bucket over with a small bow.
"Indeed." Sereq replied, bowing herself as she accepted it. She threw her head backwards, raised the bucket over it, and poured the cold, cold water over her face and hair, feeling it spill over her chest and down her body, glueing her thankfully dark clothes to her body. She could feel her nipples harden into points from the cold, but the chill was soothing and relieving after feeling so hot.
Sereq blinked water out of her eyes and handed the bucket back to her apprentice with a nod. For a moment, she thought she had seen a flash of heat in his yellow eyes and his four-fingered hand brushed hers for an instant more than strictly necessary as he collected the bucket.
A shiver went through her and her hearbeat spiked for a moment before she got herself back under control. She was usually quite perceptive and able to spot even the slightest of people's reactions, but in this case she might have been deceiving herself. She wanted quite badly for Xalek to be affected by her as she was affected by him, to want her as much as she wanted him, and she could have easily overinterpreted his reaction.

"Thank you, apprentice. - she forced herself to say - That will be all for this morning."
Xalek acknowledged her instructions with a slight bow, then raised his yellow gaze to lock it with hers.
"I'll see you in the afternoon. We still have to work on that uncatalogued artifact." Sereq added.
"As you command, Mistress." Xalek replied, as usual, with a slight bow and took his leave, stalking towards his quarters.
Sereq watched him walk away, his short queue of black hair dripping water down his back and into the waistband of his hakamas. She closed her eyes, fighting the impulse to stop him and lick the water off the whip marks on his back. When she opened them again he was mercifully already gone back inside.

By the time she had reached her quarters, Sereq was feeling quite sore from the training and limped straight to the shower, stripping her wet training fatigues and dropping them on the floor of the 'fresher. The air-con of the base had made her nipples perk up even more, so much that it was nearly uncomfortable. She stepped into the cubicle and turned the water to blood-temperature, letting the heat soothe her sore muscles and relax her. It was tragic irony that every male she had crossed in the corridors of the base had cast lustful glances at her, or at least had noticed her, while her infuriatingly stoic apprentice had barely batted an eyelash. The barest glance, the barest touch, that was everything she had managed to extract from him.
Part of her mind insisted that it was nothing, but another part knew that he never, ever touched her outside sparring and training. That slightest touch, that minute infringement of their unspoken rule, might be a sign that she had actually affected him.
Maybe next time she should wear less clothes herself, show more of her body to him. Maybe, if she was lucky and cunning in her manouvers, next time she could coax a stronger reaction from him. In her mind's eye, she could almost see it happen.

Next time he would grab her hand and pull her flush against his body, and she would feel him hard and aching for her. She would loosen the tie of his trousers and let them fall to the ground and, finally, she would see him completely naked for the first time. They would had been both so lost in their desire for each other that there would be no time for hesitant exploring, nor for tentative caresses.
He would push her to the ground - she imagined, sneaking a finger between her legs to relieve the terrible ache she was feeling there - and tear her clothes to shreds, first her shirt, then her trousers and finally her smallclothes, leaving her exposed.
And then he would take her roughly, there in the middle of the courtyard, where anyone could see them. He would pound himself hard into her, harder and harder until she didn't know whether it was pain or pleasure she was feeling, but it would be good, so good that she would be whimpering for him as every stroke brought her closer to rapture.
And then she would scream for him, howl his name as she lost herself in pleasure so intense that it was almost like death, and she would hear him cry out for her as he spilled himself inside her, and it would be perfect, so terribly perfect...

Her own release caught her almost by surprise, much stronger than usual, forcing her spine to bow and her muscles to clench. Her legs buckled under her, making her slide to the floor of the cubicle, and she caught herself just as she was going to call out for her apprentice in the height of her rapture.

Sereq bit her lip hard enough to draw blood and flicked her Force upwards at the temperature control, switching it to punishingly cold. The shock nearly took her breath away, but she forced herself to endure it for long moments, before she dragged herself up and switched off the water altogether.

She had been doing it again, she berated herself, stepping out of the shower and drying herself out with jerky, angry motions. She hadn't just been fantasizing about her apprentice, which was bad enough, but she had been dreaming of submitting to him, of letting him have his way with her as he pleased, and that was something no Sith worth her salt would do.
She had to stop thinking about it, she told herself, she had to excise that weakness from her mind.
She was in charge, she was the Master, and if anyone had to submit to someone else, it should be Xalek to submit to her.
It was true, but that didn't change the fact that fantasizing about topping him didn't satisfy her as much as the reverse.

Sereq sighed. She hadn't reached the rank of Councillor and the ripe old age of twenty-seven just to be dominated by her lust like a common harlot, even if the object of her lustful thoughts was tall and strong and utterly lickable, and probably hung like a rancor to boot...
... and Force-dammit, there she was at it again!
Fuming, Sereq turned on the water to absolute cold and forced herself under it again. It would be a long day...

Later that afternoon, Sereq sat stiffly in her workspace trying to decode an old holocron. Her apprentice, now fully clothed and hooded, sat at the next workstation ans cross-referenced some obscure information on the database Sereq had put together with the help of her staff. She knew that it wasn't his favourite job, but, as always, he did as told as best as he could, employing all his hunter's patience and concentration for the task. "Stalking data" he called it, and he was quite good at it.
As during the morning, however, Sereq sensed that there was something off with him, something that made him uneasy and nervous and dissatisfied. His Force-signature was clouded with it and, after her morning ordeal, she was starting to get unnerved too.

"What's wrong with you?" she finally burst, as he fidgeted and sighed once too many, breaking her concentration.
Xalek didn't try to deny that there was something amiss, but hesitated in providing an answer.
"So?" Sereq insisted, glaring at him and crossing her arms below her breasts.
"I received a message from the elders of my clan, Mistress." he admitted finally, lowering his head.
"Another of your relatives has died?" she asked, feeling slightly bad about having been harsh with him.
Xalek shook his head. "No." he replied and Sereq knew that he wasn't going to offer more information unless she asked him to. Usually his laconicity pleased her, but today everything seemed to irritate her.
"Then what?" she barked.
Another minute hesitation. "I am the last male of my family. They said I have a duty to preserve my father's bloodline." he revealed.
"So what?" she asked, feeling that she wouldn't like the direction towards which the conversation was steering.
"So they have selected a wife for me." he replied, lowering his gaze to the floor.

Sereq blinked and breathed deeply.

A wife?!

Xalek would have to marry?!

Sereq couldn't wrap her head around it. Xalek was hers in a way that none of her other subordinates were, a solid presence in her life, always ready to fight at her side, no matter what the odds, always there to listen, even if he didn't say much.
Some of her other subordinates had families and children, she knew that, but somehow she had always assumed that Xalek would always be only hers, that even if she never made any of her fantasies into reality he would never have any other woman.
It felt wrong to think of him belonging to someone else, to another woman worse than anything.
But it was his duty to his clan and to his dead parents, and Sereq knew that it would tear him apart to be prevented from discharging it.

"Well, I suppose congratulations are in order, then? When is the ceremony going to be?" she asked, forcing herself to sound cheerful.
"Do I have your permission to marry?" Xalek asked, briefly meeting her gaze before he lowered his eyes again.
"Are you really asking me such a question?" Sereq retorted, exasperated.
"Of course. You are my family now, Mistress." Xalek replied tonelessly, still without looking at her.

Sereq's thoughts flashed back to the day he had returned to her after his father's funeral.
"From now on you are my mother and my father, Mistress." he had said, and evidently he hadn't meant that just in a ceremonial sense. He really considered her as a parental substitute, then.
Oh, the tragic irony, she thought.
What was she supposed to say to that? "Yes, of course, go ahead, marry another woman, give her a good kriff and make a lot of scaly brats with her, while I disgrace myself in the shower, dreaming of you..."

Her hesitation must have clued him to the fact that something was amiss and he looked up at her again with an almost pleading expression.
Of course he wants me to say yes, she thought, the honour of his family and his clan are at stake, and maybe he also wants to get into business with someone from his own species. He had never expressed any interest in any woman before, but maybe that was because he found the species difference a bigger barrier than she did.
Maybe he dreamed of a woman from his tribe, with scaly red skin, yellow eyes and tusks, and he found her own scale-less skin, her red eyes, her vestigial horns and her tattoos off-putting or even repulsive. Maybe she had never had any sort of chance at all.

"Of course you have my permission, Xalek. Just make sure that your marriage doesn't distract you from your duties as my apprentice." she said finally, trying to sound maternal and stern and not half-brokenhearted.
Xalek looked up at her once more and she had the fleeting impression that he was almost disappointed by her reply.
"Of course, Mistress. I know where my primary loyalty resides." he declared.
Sereq sighed. "So when are you going?" she asked, rubbing her forehead wearily.
"If you agree, I will depart in three days. I will have to stay for at least a month to settle everything properly." he replied, uncharacteristically articulate.
"Yes, I suppose it's not going to be that easy." she commented.
Xalek nodded. "No, Mistress, but once it is done, I will come back to you." he declared.
"Will you bring your wife back with you?" Sereq asked trying to hide her anxiety at the thought.
"No, Mistress. - he replied, shaking his head - She will stay on Kalee."
Sereq repressed a sigh of intense relief. She didn't know if she would have been able to be on the same planet as Xalek's wife without wanting to kill her every minute of her waking hours.
"Are you happy about this, Xalek? I guess you don't even know her, do you?" she asked instead, forcing a smile.
"It is my duty, Mistress." he replied again without inflection.
"It is your honour." she continued, echoing his own words.
"Yes, Mistress. Tradition demands it." he confirmed.
"And who are we to break tradition, eh?" Sereq commented in what she hoped was a light tone.
Xalek gave her a long, intense look and nodded, lowering his gaze again.
Once more, Sereq had the impression that something was off, even if she couldn't quite put her finger on it. Maybe it was her.
Most likely it was her.
It would pass, she told herself, and tried to go back to work as if nothing had happened, but all energy seemed to have drained from her.

Three days later, Sereq insisted on saying farewell to him at the airstrip before he departed for Kalee. She remembered enough about the marriage traditions of her homeworld to know that it should be an occasion of joy and great merriment, and so she made sure it was. There were toasts of pulkay, laughter and bawdy jokes, as it should be. Sereq made a valiant effort to appear unaffected by the situation, but as soon an even more laconic than usual Xalek had taken off, she shut herself in her chambers, with the excuse of meditation.

Xalek was gone to his duty.
She would have to come to terms with the idea that he was no longer only hers, and would never be only hers again.
He would have a wife, when he came back.
She could almost imagine her. She would be beautiful, of course. Only the most beautiful girl of the village would do for a great warrior like Xalek. And she would be young, much younger than Sereq herself was, a flower in full bloom, unscarred in body and soul, unlike her, with unblemished red skin, and a heart ready to love unreservedly.
She would be the one to share with him the pleasures of flesh, to hold him close during countless nights, to make him happy and to see him smile.

It wasn't fair, Sereq told herself.
She had been the one to believe in Xalek's potential, to see him when all other Siths overlooked him, and to push him into the realisation of that potential.
Xalek should belong to her and her alone, and not to some stupid village girl who knew nothing about him.
She should be the one to bring him to rapture, it should be her name he called in his moment of ecstasy, and her bed, next to her, should be where he lay exhausted and sated.
She had dreamt of it so much and so hard, that it felt almost like a memory, and now it would never come to pass.

Alone in her chambers, Darth Imperius, Councillor of the Sith, lay on her empty bed and cried.